Popular Expressions Used in the U.S.
wait for the other shoe to drop: wait for the next bad thing to happen.
After September 11, 2001 everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it did in the form of an anthrax attack.
walk all over someone: to take advantage of another person in a relationship.
She walks all over her boyfriend because she knows he would never leave her, no matter what she does.
This sentence is in the present tense.
walk hand-in-hand: to walk with another person while holding hands.
Everyone can see they are in love as they go by walking hand-in-hand.
waste one’s breath: to try to convince another person to do something but the effort does not produce a favorable result.
He wants her to go out with him; however, she already has a boyfriend, so he’s just wasting his breath.
waste not, want not: if you don’t throw away things that are still useful or in good condition, you won’t need to buy new things.
Dave is careful with his money. He shops at thrift stores, keeps everything he owns in good shape, and he saves as much money in the bank as possible. He lives by this simple motto: Waste not, want not.
watch like a hawk: watch carefully
I have to watch my two-year old nephew like a hawk. He’s very fast and he gets into everything.
watch which way the wind blows: to wait and see what is popular.
Many politicians don’t make decisions about how to vote on an issue until after they watch which way the wind is blowing.
(also, see which way the wind is blowing.)
wear out one’s welcome: to stay as a guest for too long.
Patty loves her mother, but after a three-week visit, she has worn out her welcome.
wear the pants in the family: the male head of a household; the person who sets the rules for a family. (This expression is always used for men)
Even though his wife make more money than he does, he wants everyone to know who wears the pants in the family.
well, I’ll be: that’s a surprise;
Well, I’ll be. Look at all the fish he caught today!
wet behind the ears: inexperienced; new at something.
He’s pretty good on a skateboard, but he’s still a little wet behind the ears.
what goes around comes around: do something good and in return something good might happen for you someday in the future (This expression can also be used for bad things that people do).
They volunteer a lot of their time to the community knowing that what goes around comes around.
what’s up: hello; how’s it going?; what’s happening. (This is a very popular way of starting a conversation with a friend, in person or on the phone.)
(A cell phone rings. A woman in a gray suit answers it.)
B: Hi, Marcy. It’s Karen.
A: Hi Karen. What’s up?
what’s done is done: the past can’t be changed.
When oil leaks into the ocean from an oil drilling rig, it’s impossible to clean up 100% of the spill. What’s done is done.
when all is said and done: the time at which something is finished.
He has a lot of work to do, but when all is said and done, he hopes to take a break and go on vacation.
when in Rome do as the Romans do: when you visit some place, you can do what the natives do; adapt to the place that you are in.
Whenever Bill goes to Hawaii on business, he always wears Hawaiian shirts because that’s the custom there. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
when the cat’s away, the mice will play: when authorities (teacher, parents, police, managers, bosses, etc.) are gone, the people under their control can have fun or just relax.
when the dust has settled: when everything has returned to normal after some kind of a disturbance.
When the dust has settled, the town will clear the wreckage from the hurricane and rebuild.
where do we go from here: What do we do next? / What’s the next step? (This expression is often used when making big plans for the future.)
After the earthquake, the people of the city asked themselves, "Where do we go from here?
where there’s a will there’s a way: if you really want to do something, you’ll be able to do it; anything can be accomplished through sheer determination.
Climbing to the top of that mountain looks like it’s just about impossible, but where there’s a will there’s a way.
where there’s smoke there’s fire: a logical conclusion can be made based on the presence of some fact–smoke is caused by the presence of a fire.
Just because police cars show up at our neighbors’ house every weekend doesn’t mean that there’s a problem, but where there’s smoke there’s fire.
which is which: What’s the difference between the two?
One rhinoceros is a male and the other is a female, but which is which? It’s hard to tell them apart.
(the) whole ball of wax / the whole enchilada: the whole thing; all of something instead of just one part.
In his new job, he’s going to get a good salary, a 401K retirement plan, vacation days, and stock options–the whole ball of wax.
(the) whole kit and kaboodle: the whole thing (this is similar to "the whole ball of wax).
At first, Mark just wanted to buy some land in the country, but then he decided to buy a house and barn to go along with it–the whole kit and kaboodle.
(a) whole new ball game: an entirely new situation.
With more competition from other, newer restaurants in the neighborhood, it’s a whole new ball game for Vinnie’s Pizzeria.
(the) whole nine yards: everything; all of something (This is also similar to the whole kit and kaboodle).
Tanya has a workout room, a party room, a doorman–the whole nine yards–at her new apartment building.
wild horses couldn’t keep me away: I’ll be there, no matter what. (This expression is popular among older people, but younger people don’t often use it.)
Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from my grandson’s graduation.
win hands down: to be the obvious winner of a competition.
He won the race hands down.
win some, lose some: sometimes you win and sometimes you lose when you compete.
He won the last golf tournament he entered, but he probably won’t win this time.
"Oh well. Win some, lose some," he said.
wishful thinking: to wish for something that probably isn’t a possibility.
Vanessa thought it was just wishful thinking to consider getting a puppy, but when she asked her mother if she could have a dog, her mother said yes.
with all due respect: (This expression is used before disagreeing with another person. It’s a very polite thing to say)
With all due respect, I disagree with what you just said.
with one arm tied behind one’s back: to do something at a disadvantage and still win.
He can beat up the other man with one arm tied behind his back.
without further ado: I’m finished talking. (This expression is common in speeches when a person is about to introduce another speaker or an anticipated event.)
…and now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce to you our featured guest….
(a) wolf in sheep’s clothing: a dangerous person who doesn’t look dangerous.
My sister’s boyfriend is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
word of mouth: information about something is passed directly from one person to another, in contrast to mass communication through TV, radio, the newspaper, or the internet.
Most of the business that she gets comes from word of mouth.
work one’s fingers to the bone: to work extremely hard, usually physical labor.
Not long ago it was legal to work a person’s fingers to the bone, but now there are laws in the U.S. that prevent that kind of thing in most situations.